Published: 19th May 2020
IIT Madras student group claims construction workers unpaid, govt ration withheld during lockdown
The workers were forced to work during the lockdown by the contractor who refused to give them the government provided ration
A group of students from IIT Madras has written to the administration about 550 workers on their campus being forced to work for their rations and made to live in unsanitary labour camps during the lockdown. The students also claim that the workers have not been paid their wages since the first week of March.
A team from ChintaBAR, an independent students' organisation in IIT Madras said that 550 migrant labourers were working in the construction of the Mandakini Boys Hostel inside the campus, "They are employed by the contractor DEC Infrastructures and Projects Private Limited and have not been paid their wages since the first week of March. We have been able to ascertain that the total amount amount of pending wages comes to more than Rs 1.7 Crore. The adminitration has to ensure the workers are paid," the ChintaBAR team said in their letter.
However, the administration told us that the Central Public Works Department was in charge, "The hostel construction is being handled by CPWD. They are responsible for the disbursement of funds, which they receive directly from the funding agency for the project. We have been informed by them that the workers have been paid. CPWD is the principal employer," the spokesperson at IIT Madras said. We have also reached out to the construction supervisors and will upload this copy with a response when we receive it.
The student group is not buying the explanation though, "A cursory perusal of the CPWD tender document would be enough to know that these are breaches of the contract. It is up to the Institute to use the security deposit if the contractor is found breaching their duties. Both IIT and CPWD seem to have been aware of these issues well in advance of us approaching them; so they can't claim ignorance.," the group stated.
The students also revealed that the contractor had been hoarding the supply of food, dal and oil that the Tamil Nadu government had allotted them during the lockdown. According to them, the contractor forced the workers to continue the construction work during the lockdown and used the supplies as a reason to blackmail them to do the work. "This was then used to bargain with the workers to force them to restart work against their will, saying that it would be released only if they did so. Withholding pending wages and rations by the contractor, forcing a few of them to get back to work in desperation, amounts to the use of bounded labour," the team said.
They pointed out that what the contractor was doing was against the stipulations mentioned in their contract with IIT Madras and the CPWD. "Our sustained effort over the past 10 days have ensured that the rations have now been delivered to the workers. However, the matter of the pending wages remain. It is unfortunate that the IIT Madras administration has not kept their promise made to us to settle the wages owed to the workers by May 12. The Director has not deemed it fit to even reply to our letter asking him to urgently intervene to resolve this matter ," the ChintaBAR members said.
The students also raised a clause in the workers contracts about their wages, "The Director has not deemed it fit to even reply to our letter asking him to urgently intervene to resolve this matter. We note that the contract of the said project allows IIT Madras or CPWD to pay the wages directly to the workers if the contractor is found to be flouting the concerned clauses." Even as we continue to be told to maintain physical distancing, the students said they found that the labour campus in which the workers are living are 'horrific and unsanitary'.
"The administration has not acted on this as well despite us bringing it to their notice. We are aware that there are more construction projects going on inside the campus, and we have not been able to find out the situation the workers employed in those are facing," they added.
The students have said that they will continue standing in solidarity with the workers in their demand to be paid fair wages for their work. "We demand that the IIT Madras administration immediately make the details of pending wages in all these projects public, and immediately ensure that the said wages are paid and DEC Infra be made to compensate for the injustice done to the workers," ChintaBAR urged.